Friday, February 27, 2009

Week 4 - Revealing A Big Family Secret

First and foremost, welcome to my blog.

It may be humble, but this is the new home of The Facebook Diet, so step on in, make yourself comfortable and kick off your shoes.

Please give me a few weeks to figure out what I can and can't do with the gadgets, gizmos, bells and whistles of the blog community, and I will try and furnish my brand new cyber surroundings with pictures, recipes and other relevant information to help better illustrate the journey I have been taking. So, if any of you veteran bloggers have any tips you care to share, please, don't be shy. I am the least tech savvy guy on the world wide web and advice and suggestions are more than welcome.

Let me start with the basics. My name is Steve, I am executive in the entertainment industry and since January 31, 2009, I have been chronicling my grand experiment with a new way of dieting on Facebook.

I say experiment because I am trying a new variable as part of my effort to finally tackle a lifelong battle with my weight.

Four weeks ago, after devouring what I will loosely term my "farewell, rare/well meal" - a huge slab of prime rib that would have sent Fred Flintstone into a food coma- I posted my first "note" about my diet on Facebook.

To put my experiment simply, I figured if I told everyone in my social network that I was dieting, I would force myself to succeed or look like a colossal schmuck if I just up and quit or fell off the wagon. I call it the Facebook Diet. Others may think of it as the Shame Diet.

Great plan, right?

At first I was terrified. What had I done? Who chooses to make a crazy move like this?

Well, me I guess.

I enlisted a veritable army of friends, colleagues, supporters and strangers to help me stay true to my goal. Anyone can diet for a few days or a few weeks, but it's staying true to the change in eating habits that is the real trick to success.

From the start, the outpouring of support has been startling and inspiring and it has absolutely proven to be a major dynamic in keeping me focused throughout this past month. So if you are reading this, you are in the Army now and I thank you for your help.

Many of you may be asking, why have we landed here to this new place in cyberspace?

On Facebook, I guess I thought I was "blogging," but I was really just posting elaborate "notes" on my lifelong struggle. I was Mr. Post It without the small, sticky yellow pieces of paper.

I have to admit, I had been thinking about blogging for a while, but when the "controversy" erupted last week about content ownership on FB, it spooked me into launching my own page.

If you are just joining this journey you can catch up on all the original facebook posts which have now been integrated into this site. But here is a brief recap for newbies.

Where to begin?

I've been big since I was little. Not just a tad big, but perhaps a few belts bigger than pleasingly plump.

I have been on every diet imaginable and before this nutty idea popped into my head, I was a prime candidate for stomach surgery. It was either that or join the cast of the Biggest Loser. Now I love that inspirational show, but honestly, I don't care how fat you are, who really exercises for 6 hours a day? Certainly not me.

In early January I herniated a disc in my lower back and I was tormented by the ultimate fear: I came to believe that my body had finally given up on me and my life of excess. So I decided I had to change and it had to happen right away.

Today is day 28 of my grand experiment. And with the nurturing help of my social network, I am 22 pounds leaner than I was this time last month and I am elated for a lot of good reasons.

I suppose the biggest change is medical. For about 10 years, I have been a type-2 diabetic and for the first time in more than a decade, I am completely off all shots and pills - and believe me there were a lot of 'em. No more insulin, actos, glucophage, lisinopril, or byetta just because I started to eat right. Wow. What a concept!

Alright, that is truly the ultra condensed reader's digest version of the last few weeks. Most of you migrating with me to this blog already know about the great pickle crisis, the Superbowl, why I am corporal corpulent, and my struggles losing only 2 pounds a week for the last 2 weeks. There was drama, trauma, sillyness and success. Now we can finally join this week's episode already in progress...

There is a pretty substantial secret I have been keeping from most of you. I am sure many of you are saying, "uh, Steve, you have been like the King of Oversharing since you started this thing, so wtf?"

Allow me to explain.

When I was at the peak of the most painful part of my herniated disc, I was hooked up to an I.V. that was pumping me with serious drugs. The doctor who was caring for me started to talk about the weight loss program she had just launched. Sensing she could take advantage of a completely desperate and totally ossified patient, I listened as intently as a zoned man could while Class 3 narcotics sailed thru my veins.

As I was becoming uncomfortably comfortable with my intra-veinous morphine and valium high, I told her I would start her diet as soon as I could. Now, honestly, at that moment, I probably would have said anything just to get away from the pain. I think in most states, commitments made when you are FUBAR are forgotten or not enforceable. Not this one.

Amy, my wife, had driven me to the doctor's office that day since I was unable to drive myself, and she was by my side when I made this vow.

She looked at me and said, "we will do it together - all of us."

I knew right away when she said "all of us," she meant the kids too.

Amy and I had many discussions over the years about a family diet. She rightly didn't want to do anything that would create a negative self image for our children. They are loving, beautiful kids and she felt strongly that they should be proud of who, and what, they are.

We went back and forth on this issue for years because, frankly, while I tended to agreed with her, I would never want my kids to go thru life the way I have.

Amy and I both grew up surrounded and suffocated by so much concern about our weight, that it placed girth at the center of our universe and it made us feel inferior from the earliest of days.

I can look at pictures from when I was 6, 7, or 8, and while there was a certain rotund factor, it didn't require a degrading full frontal assault.

So when I started the first of my elaborate "notes" on Facebook, I started to write about what we were tackling together. Amy asked that I not reveal their involvement. She didn't want the pressure of being on the public pedastal, and while she had no problem with me imploding in front of all of my friends, she wanted to protect the rest of the family from the same sick and twisted fate.

Now when I say we have been one big happy family for years, I use the word "big" both literally and figuratively.

Not that the kids were fat, cuz they never really were. Still, with two heavy parents, the deck was stacked against them.

So when my back was finally well enough to cooperate, the four of us met with our doctor. On January 30th, we got weighed, did a BMI test, blood work, EKGs, and were given the boundaries of our new diet. We left the office at 5:30 and did what any self-respecting family of eaters would do. We drove straight to Lawry's - a mecca of beef for food lovers everywhere. We gorged and then committed ourselves fully to the diet.

We woke up on Saturday morning and began Day 1. Right after our fist stab at breakfast, we headed to the market to stock up on the limited foods we could eat. Right after walking thru the front door, my son made a b-line for the croutons at the Bristol Farms salad bar. In his mind, if it was in the salad bar, how bad could a few croutons be?

We were off to a rocky start. But in the last four weeks, I have honestly been losing my weight while gaining my family, and that is the greatest gift of all.

To date, we have collectively lost 67 pounds and that is a stunning achievement on any level. Before we began this diet, we were just about as hopelessly addicted to carbs, sugar and unhealthy food as anyone I know.

To see that lifestyle abandoned and transformed in favor of genuine portion control, will power, restraint and exercise puts nothing but a gigantic smile on my face.

In four weeks, I have dropped 22 pounds, Amy has lost an unbelievable 19 lbs, Lucas, my son, has shed 14 pounds and my beautiful daughter Hannah is 12 pounds thinner.

A month has done a world of difference for all of us. But when I think back to 4 Saturdays ago, it's like a scene out of a bad horror movie or worse, it's like watching Dom Deluise in Fatso.

The first days of this diet were insane.

All of us were struggling to adapt to a new way of life. We were cranky, short tempered and in varying stages of sugar shock, carb withdrawal, and suffering from delusional and crazy food cravings. Then a few days into the program, I decided that even our beagle needed to go on a diet.

That was probably the last straw. I was sure everyone in the family despised me and cursed me and our diet, even Daisy, the family dog!

Within 48 hours, Amy and I questioned whether we were doing the right thing. But we began supporting each other like never before and we have bonded over the one thing most likely to tear us apart - Food.

The other day I was driving with Lucas to a basketball game, and I asked him how he was doing. He looked at me and with his little eight-year-old raspy voice said, "I am doing okay, but every time I look at my shoelaces, I see spaghetti."

I swear I burst out laughing so hard, I almost had to pull over.

Then he broke my heart. He said "I have been invited to a friend's birthday in a few weeks and they are having pizza and cake. Please, dad, can I have a piece of pizza and some cake?"

Out of the mouths of babes.

Instantly, memories of my childhood bitch slapped me. I was just about Lukey's age when I was put on my first diet. I would eat what my folks gave me and then, at school, when the parents weren't around, it was party time with cinnamon rolls and grilled cheese sandwiches or pizza or whatever fit my fancy at nutrition and lunch. This splurge would continue during my walk home, when I would spend whatever money I had left in my pocket on candy at the Robertson Market - a sleazy little mom and pop shop run by a crotchety old miser of a man.

In a million years, I never would have asked my dad if I could have a piece of pizza or a piece of cake while I was dieting. His steely death stare alone would have killed me.

I vividly remember sneaking into my mom and dad's room like a cat burglar in the night while they were sleeping. I would procure a dollar or two from one of their wallets and I was good to go, loaded and ready for my own little pudgy boy shopping spree.

I didn't do many things really well at that age, but God, I was a champ of a cheater when I was 8.

My motto was cheat early and cheat often. I have come to suspect that is why I never really lost weight as a kid. It's just a hunch but I think I'm onto something here.

When Lucas started the diet, I guess I just saw myself and pictured him bumming ho-ho's off of his friends at lunchtime. I know, ye of little faith. I mean let's face it, just a few hours into our diet and he was attacking croutons like a hungry grizzly coming out of hibernation. And it didn't stop there. After the incident at the salad bar, he found us at the deli counter getting some turkey. When the counter guy showed us a slice to gage thickness, he jumped up and tore the turkey right out of the deli man's hand. Later that afternoon, I caught Lucas in line for the end-of-game treats that are normally doled out after the kids play basketball.

So forgive me if I just assumed the apple probably didn't fall far from the cheating tree.

But it became immediately apparent to me that after a bit of a rough start, Lukey was dieting as fanatically as I was. And that is insanely difficult when you are a kid in school and you're told, "no, honey, you can't have those delicious cheetos but hey, enjoy these 12 grapes instead, little man."

So what was the difference between Lucas and Me at age 8?

In my mind, our dedication to the diet and real resolve reinforced his attitude. His compass to cheat or not to cheat was likely set at our dinner table as we all took on this enormous challenge together.

When I was his age, I was the only one who had to diet. My mom, dad and brother were all crazy thin. I don't know whether I got short changed in the metabolism department, but whatever it was, It sucked hardcore. You try eating cottage cheese and a burger patty when everyone else in the family is chowing down on the Bacchus feast.

When our family finally unified as the four dieting musketeers, it was all for one and one pound at a time for all. And that had to be the tipping point for my son.

None of this is easy. Amy and I and the kids were literally driven to the breaking point throughout the first week as we forced ourselves to stay true to the plan - sometimes literally minute by minute.

To say it was touch and go would be minimizing the chinks that were forming in our stoic facade of armor.

On the night of Day 4, Amy and I were moments from pulling the plug on the kid's program. She had gone to school and had lunch with Lucas to make sure he was ok, and he wouldn't eat any of the fruit she had packed.

He had become so accustomed to the kind of lunches that most kids enjoy that sliced turkey and fruit was like taking medicine. When my son turns down something sweet - even fruit - something is wrong. She said he just looked so resigned and beaten.

We had a heart-to-heart that really was a mutual meltdown: a crisis of confidence and conscience as we questioned whether it was right to take the kids on this difficult path.

Were we projecting all our nightmares growing up fat on them? Should we stop altogether or choose another plan?

For me, I had just outed myself to my entire world on Facebook and elsewhere, and there was no way I could abandon ship after four days. This was probably my first major fall into the safety net of the social network.

I just couldn't quit. Unless, of course, I wanted to volunteer for the post of village idiot.

Amy was in tears. Truly a wreck. This deluge came after several long, hard, dizzying days trying to find not only her way - but the entire family's way - on a diet we didn't fully grasp or understand. We were all frustrated and Amy and I were frightened.

Why frightened?

Fear of failure is a frickin' scary thing. You go thru life trying this diet and that diet and you just want one to work.

So when we had this conversation, Amy's tears were like water pouring thru the cracks of the family dam. There I was on the other side getting doused with water from the fissures and in complete fear the dam was about to burst. We decided to carry on for one more day, and then another.

When we finally survived the first week, everyone posted spectacular numbers. While we celebrated our success we talked to the doctor about the meltdown and the moment when we questioned whether we were on the right path with the kids.

She said, "do you hear yourself asking if you are doing the right thing to make your family healthy!"

Her candor hit too close to home. Bullseye, actually.

At the end of week one, while I was amazed by all of our success, I probably was most proud of Lucas. He's 8 and a perfect kid in every way.

On the first few days of the diet, we talked a bit about what he was going thru and he literally said "I'm doing this for you, Dad. I don't want you to be in anymore pain." Please, why don't you put another stake in my heart, Professor Van Helsing.

So when the scale said he lost 5 pounds the first week, my jaw hit the floor. I was blown away. I think I probably gained 5 pounds the first week of my diet when I was his age. I guess it's just human nature to want what you can't have. Well, I have always wanted in abundance and Lucas is a stronger boy than I ever was.

Hannah is 12 and much more in tune with "looks" and from day one wanted to see where this would take her and the family. She also said she wanted to look good in a bikini this summer. Excuse me, Miss! Say what?

My little girl is growing up way too fast and it's time to start polishing my shotgun. Nothing terrifies me more than a ridiculously smart 12 year old girl, who worships the Jonas Brothers and now professes to wanting to look good in a bikini. For whom, I wonder in silent disgust at how quickly the years have passed.

I also marvel at how slowly and quickly the last month has passed. So far, The Facebook Diet has taken us all to a place that I never believed we would go. Already, the kids are looking like a shadow of their former selves and we are all completely in the groove one month after beginning this odyssey. You can see the results for yourself at the top of the blog. The picture of Lucas taken with the basketball was taken in January and the other photo was taken this evening. Just look at his face to see the difference.

It's rare when you see him without a good natured smile. I am so proud of our short term accomplishments and look forward to the hurdles and hurrahs that lie ahead.

And while I admit to being a bit apprehensive about the future, Lucas will have cheese pizza and a small slice of cake at his little buddy's birthday party. Because as much as I want to shield him and Hannah from a fat person's destiny, pizza is the real world.

And really, what's life as a kid if you can't enjoy a slice of pizza every now and then.

Copyright, 2009, Steve Elzer

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Learning to Walk My Talk - One Pound at a Time

Learning to Walk My Talk - One Pound at a Time
Saturday, February 21, 2009 at 9:52am
(This originally appeared on Facebook as part of my experiment: The Facebook Diet)

I hate the scale. Always have. It has never been my friend.

Even when I lost 14 pounds the first week of this diet, I still hated that frickin’ thing.

So when I lost 2 pounds in week two of Elzer Life Change Version 2.009, I was frustrated.

In my head I was expecting to lose 5-7 pounds that day. But I would be completely dishonest if I said I wasn’t disappointed, and I vowed to pay closer attention to exercise and drinking more water and really buckling down on the food choices in week 3.

Not that I had strayed from the diet, because I have continued to follow this plan the way an orthodox jew confronts pork. I have been crazy strict. I thought I had identified a few things I did differently in the second week that may have inhibited the loss and I figured there was a way to get back to the bigger, better downtick.

Hey, when you drop 14 and follow it up with a 2 by doing virtually the same eating, you are kind of set up for a bit of a WTF. You scratch your head, curse the numbers god, dust yourself off and move on.

Yesterday I had my third face off with my dreaded and feared nemesis, the scale. I always hesitate before stepping on the pad. When you are a fighter who has his ass kicked every time he steps into the ring, you tend to hesitate just a bit before climbing between the ropes. Slowly, one foot followed the other and as the numbers started to pop up on the screen like 7’s on a digital slot machine, I stared in stunned disbelief at another 2 pound loss.

Arghh! Ugh. Damn. "Come on," I screamed at the numbers on the screen, startling the nurse.

Now don’t get me wrong. I actually broke an important weight barrier that has eluded me for quite some time and I am genuinely thrilled with shedding 18 pounds in three weeks. So if it sounds like I am playing a tiny little violin for myself, I hope you enjoy the music :).

Depending on the day, my back is pretty much pain free, my pants are falling off my body, I am literally on the last notch of my belt, and I am officially off all diabetes medicines, among other amazing health victories. All really great stuff for such a short time on this diet.

But for whatever reason, I just couldn’t get all giddy over the achievement.

Sensing my despair and discouragement, my doctor said, “Steve, you do understand that you are no longer diabetic on this diet. Don’t you?”

I heard what she was saying, but it’s not really true.

To be off the diabetes pills and the shots is an extraordinary thing. But I am under no delusion that my diabetes is now cured. Far from it. My blood sugar level will break the land speed record the moment I start to scarf down a plate of pasta.

The food plan I am on is designed to be completely in sync with certain low glycemic foods. Meaning they won’t obnoxiously elevate the sugar in my bloodstream.

It has been three weeks since I have popped potato, pasta, hot buttered popcorn or pizza into my mouth. No bread, no rice, not even a single bite of my beloved little gummi bears – you know, all the stuff that had become staples of my life. And here’s a flash just into the newsroom: three weeks without all that shit and hell has not frozen over yet!

So when the doc said “you are no longer diabetic,” I said, “yeah, but I feel like I am in food prison.”


Look, I was feeling like crap and I really didn’t mean it. Besides that, at least when you are in prison you get time off for good behavior. Sorry Warden, I just don’t consider 2 pounds an appropriate time off reward.

When you still have as much to lose as I do, a few pounds is really more of a consolation prize that some cheesy game show host gives you as he acknowledges the noble effort, pats you on the back and says “thanks for playing.”

I know this may be coming off like a pity party and maybe it is. But only two pounds worth of pity :)

I am allowed to want to lose weight faster, and I know in my heart that 2 pounds a week is a healthy pace for meaningful long term loss. But my heart and my head sometimes duke it out a bit.

My wife said to me, “Steve, if you lose 2 pounds a week, that’s over a hundred pounds in a year.” Teni, the office angel who has traveled this road, literally repeated what Amy said word for word. It was like they shared the same brain. It freaked me out. Curse them both.

Why are women so rational? I mean when it comes to this stuff they are completely dialed in. But when it comes to shoes or jewelry or designer handbags all reason and rationality flies right out of the window.

But the perspective they shared and so many others on this board have echoed is spot on, and while I am disappointed I am not discouraged.

In the old days, I would have left the doctor’s office and headed to the nearest restaurant for a post-weigh in snack. I always figured it gave me a full seven days before the next opportunity to cheat.

This time, my commitment to succeed is different.

I am driven by a genuine desire to change. That, and a healthy dose of fear of a major back relapse. As I have said before, pain and fear are great motivators. I have no choice but to stick to this course.

The doc says that for the first time in years my body is adjusting to a new way of life. She says as I wean myself off all the drugs I used as a crutch for so long, I am finally moving forward on my own steam. The remaining few meds I am now taking all are lower dosages and the goal is to eliminate them completely

There will be a day when I actually will be able to enjoy the things I love to eat without putting me into sugar shock, but that day is a long way off.

For now, we continue to try and test new recipes and create healthy meals that don’t leave me feeling deprived, despite my pissy little food prison quip.

If I am a prisoner of anything, I am a prisoner of my own mind and I know I just need to lower my expectations when I confront my nemesis. My mantra is this isn’t a diet – it’s a life change. I need to walk my talk.

I am 2 pounds closer to my dream and it's time to kick week 4's ass -- one pound at a time.

Copyright, Steve Elzer, 2009

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Why The Word "Phat" Came Years Too Late

Why The Word Phat Came Years Too Late

Saturday, February 14, 2009 at 11:31am
(This originally appeared on my Facebook Page as part of The Facebook Diet)

When I was a kid, I heard the word fat a lot. On the playground, at home, in the doctor’s office, this was a word that seemed to follow me everywhere.

There was one day at school where I had taken a fair amount of ribbing from some cruel little shits on the schoolyard about my weight when I just sat on a bench and started to cry.

A teacher sat down beside me and asked what was wrong? I blabbered on about how much I hated the word fat. It had become so hurtful and incendiary it filled me with the kind of rage that Carrie brought to her prom.

Like any good teacher, she said I should go home after school and find other words that wouldn’t leave me feeling so blue.

I was probably sitting there thinking, “great, now I have fat homework. Thanks for the help.”

But the next day I saw Mrs. Trafton and with a smile on my face I blurted out “ponderous.”

Big word for a little kid, right?

She put her arm around me and said the next time someone called me fat, I should tell them, “I am not fat, I’m ponderous.”

To this day I remember her smile and that lesson and her telling me there were other good words I could use too like “corpulent.” That one sounded so military. It was the Viet Nam era and for some reason I remember liking that word a lot. I am Corporal Corpulent, reporting for duty, Sir!

After that heart-to-heart, everytime I would pass her in the hall or on the school yard, I would whisper “ponderous” and she would chime back “corpulent” and we would share a gentle laugh.

Now as a little boy, I really didn’t get how all this wordplay was going to make me feel any better when some little punk called me fat.

Let’s face it, all I wanted was to escape the ridicule from those three scarlet letters that I viewed as my own little badge of shame.

It’s sad really that “Phat” had to come along so much later in my life, cuz I think I would have had some fun playing fat boy throwdown with that word a whole lot better.

It took me a long time to understand that Mrs. Trafton gave me probably my first life changing lesson.

She wanted to empower and help me take the sting and stigma out of these especially painful experiences, allowing me to take pride and ownership of who and what I was without shame.

Now I won’t admit I saw the wisdom of this important lesson back then. But it did at a very early age give me tremendous insight into the power of words, which brings me to my blog.

A few days ago a very good friend asked me to reconsider this whole blogging thing. What he said was, “you’ve got to stop.”

His concerns were quite valid and they were issues I had considered before making the decision to take this very personal struggle out for a walk in the open air.

I work in an industry where image is everything and perception is reality, and he wanted me to think about the good as well as the unforeseen or unintended consequences that can come from blogging about my private life: weight, warts and all.

Look, I am not sure I will know for awhile whether blogging about this stuff is the right thing to do.

To quote Meryl Streep as Sister Aloysius in her most recent extraordinary performance, “I have doubts. I have such doubts”

But by stepping back and writing about how I learned the word ponderous, or pigging out on pickles, I am able to focus, think and even chuckle at my life and my own silly behavior in ways I never have before.

The overwhelming army of affection expressed in notes, calls, and personal emails has been just mind blowing as friends have shared with me their own personal struggles and inner demons – issues that I never knew existed in their lives.

I feel that through my sharing, others have opened up to me in ways they likely never would and I see a new dimension to these friends and colleagues that fills my soul with love and support. And that’s a hard thing to do because Papa’s got a big soul!

All that said, I can relate to the guy who sometimes offers good advice that people really don’t want to hear. So when my friend laid out this very different assessment of what I was doing, I listened.

I have given it a few days of thought and I want him and others following me on this path to know something.

Taking this journey public was not impulsive. I gave this idea quite a bit of thought though I admit there is a huge difference between the concept and the practice – the theory and the reality.

No one can fully expect the unexpected and I don’t have a crystal ball to help me look into the future.

With a lifetime of diets tried and failed, I felt that by informing my social network of my deepest desire, I would increase my odds of long term success.

Yes, it would be so easy to just keep a personal diary of what I am going thru week to week, but I wasn’t convinced that it would help commit me to the kind of life change that is required. So I plan to continue sharing my experiences honestly without oversharing needlessly.

But to that dear friend, who isn’t even on Facebook and had learned of what I was doing from others, I say thank you for your advice. I understand and acknowledge the risks and take your wisdom to heart. I know your concern came from a place of protecting my best interests and thank you for stepping up. Now go away ☺

Copyright, Steve Elzer, 2009

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Great Pickle Crisis of 2009

The Great Pickle Crisis of 2009

Wednesday, February 11, 2009 at 9:48am
(This originally appeared on my Facebook Page as part of my experiment: The Facebook Diet)

This week will be known as the week of the Great Pickle Crisis of 2009.

More than anything, the peccadillo of a pickle fiasco also demonstrated to me the importance of reaching out to a wide net of friends in my social network – mainly thru Facebook.

Let me explain.

When I started this diet, I was given a list of what I could and could not eat. The basic structure of the diet allows me to eat up to 16 ounces of designated proteins a day and 6 portions of certain veggies. Two of those portions can be allotted to a small list of fruits.

So, as I was going thru the literature, I noticed that 1 cup of raw cucumbers counts for 1 portion of veggies. Easy enough. But this week I was told by my wife that I can have dill pickles as a “free food,” meaning I can eat as much as I want and it doesn’t count against my food allotment.

Now this is where I started getting all flummoxed.

First off, giving a dieter a free food is like giving Johnny Walker to an alcoholic. It’s like giving a 16 year old the keys to the car. It’s like giving a coke addict crack.

There are certain things you just don’t do and there are certain things a doctor should know when dealing with fat guys. Top of that list is you do not give people on a diet the freedom to eat all they want – of anything. Hello… Next time you go to an all you can eat buffet, take a look around you. I promise you will see more biggies than not.

But I digress. Pickles = Free/ Cucumbers = Count.

To me, it makes no sense. Pickles are cucumbers, are they not? And they are really just cucumbers loaded with salt. I begin to suspect I have found a loop hole in my diet – a loop hole that will cause me nothing but trouble.

When you have dieted off and on your whole life, you know what works and what doesn’t – sometimes better than the doctors and nutritionists who designed the programs. You kind of become a professional. You may be really super shitty at your dieting day job, but when you have gone on every weight loss program known to man, you at least know your own body and you also can spot a loop hole when you see one.

So when I stumbled across this contradiction of cucumbers, I started to question the whole thing. Something stinks about this “free food” thing and it ain’t just pickle juice. Intuitively, I know this whole issue is going to be one giant trap to my success in week two because I know that once that sodium hits my system it will make me retain water and bloat. I begin to feel like such a woman.

I suppose you need to know that I love a good dill pickle. I love how they taste and I crave their crunch. To me they are dangerous things. They may as well be weapons of salt destruction.

You also need to know that I think the best dill pickles in the city are at this dive joint 5 minutes from the studio called Johnnie’s Pastrami. Johnnie's is known for pastrami sandwiches that are the size of a football. You look at these monsters and your arteries begin to harden. So I am sitting in my office on Monday and thinking about how good I have been, and how pickles are “free” and I start to ask myself how bad can they really be?

The good angel pops up on my shoulder and says, “don’t do it Steve.” The bad angel pops up belching pickle juice and he is wiping mustard off his lips from the pastrami sandwich he has in his hand.

I called my wife to talk me off the ledge. She couldn’t really help me because she was just as confused as I was about the whole affair. I called the doctor's office and pointed out the loop hole. They were no help. So I called my dieting Bwana, Teni K, the woman in the office who had been on a similar program. I consider her my unofficial godsend and co-pilot since she has navigated this diet so successfully.

She wasn’t answering the phone. So I sent her an email. “U There?” No response. I sent smoke signals, flares, a scouting party. I was a stalker as I tried to sort thru this silly predicament.

Finally about an hour later, I heard her in the hall and called to her. She came right in and I launched into my doomsday of dill.

She assured me that pickles would NOT tank my success. We talked thru my salt concerns and she said I was drinking so much water in a day it would flush right out of my system. So now I start to believe it’s all ok. Peter Piper, here I come.

Monday was one of those days when I was just struggling with everything. I don’t know why it was hard, but it was. I was hungry, I was fidgety, and I was just a mess. I got home and Amy had gone to the market and brought back a bottle of kosher treats. I sucked down my first pickle. It wasn’t Johnnies and it wasn’t even good, but, hey – it was free, right? SO … I had a couple of them.

Tuesday morning I could feel the bloat as my wedding ring tightened around my finger. When I left the house, I told Amy, “no more pickles.” I know what’s good for me!

Yeah, right. Six hours later, I am watching the pastrami stacker at Johnnie's as he is piling heaping mounds of meat on a bun. The very familiar counter waitress comes over and with her friendly smile says “where ya been?” and asks what I want today.

“I’ll just take some pickles, please,” I say to her while in a trance staring at the guy behind the grill loading up the sandwiches with prime pastrami.

“What size you want, honey?” she says to me.
“What sizes do you have? I ask back.

Five minutes later I am walking to my car with a gallon of pickles. It’s lunch time and Daddy is hungry. I get to the office and put the mini barrel down on my desk. I tell Angela, my assistant, that pickles are a free food, as though that is some kind of justification for my insane excess.

She looks at me like something bad is about to happen. Then she looks at the jug. I offer her a pickle to diffuse the weirdness of the moment. She takes one and agrees that these are indeed damn good pickles. I eat a few slices and put the bottle down on the floor out of sight.

A few minutes later, my friend and co-worker Todd walks in. I confess to him that I am troubled. I believe what I actually said was “I am truly sick.” He stares at me wondering what is wrong. We have gone to Johnnies many times, Todd and I. He knows my fondness for the sour greens. I point to the jug beside my desk. He gets mad.

“No! No! Not Okay,” he says, like he is scolding a dog that just shat on the rug.

Todd walks around my desk, picks up the jug and confiscates my pickles. I let him. He says when I want a pickle I should come see him. No more free pickles for me.

He socked them away in the refrigerator so I wouldn’t just maw on them all day long like some fiend on an all day pickle binge.

Now I don’t really think I over ate the pickles yesterday, despite the fact that I certainly over bought.

What caused me to show up at the Johnnie’s counter and walk away with the jumbo jug? I think when things are going good, you test your limits and boundaries. It’s like a gambler on a winning streak pressing his bet.

But the point is that when you are dealing with an addict, we tend to overdo things and when we do, it seems to be by a lot.

Now, no one has ever overdosed on pickles as far as I know. I just hope it doesn’t affect and slow my progress in week two or my weight loss.

But this sour little tale reminds me that my life these days is in a proverbial pickle. This fight is going to take a long time. But the social network support system in the office is solidly in place and working and for that I am grateful.

(The photos at the top of this blog are pictures of the actual pickle jug I purchased from Johnnie's.)

Copyright, Steve Elzer, 2009

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Saturday, February 7, 2009 at 11:49am
(This is the third post originally appearing on my Facebook home page)

In one of my favorite movies Animal House, Dean Vernon Wormer tells Kent Dorfman “Fat, Drunk and Stupid is no way to go through life, son.”

Well, I certainly have the fat thing covered. I have a collection of wine that makes even my head spin and I have been known on occasion to taste thru a bottle or two with good friends. And I won’t argue with anyone who suggests its just plain stupid with all the health problems I have to not take drastic action with my weight. I have far too much to live for and far too many blessings in my life – from my family and friends to my job.

So I agree with Dean Wormer.

On Thursday Night, I was watching Hell’s Kitchen with Amy and the kids. I admit to having an unhealthy obsession with these shows, but for whatever reason, whenever I diet, food magazines, recipe books, and especially The Food Network seem to offer a weird vicarious connection to food that I can’t have. To me, its like reading a book and imagining characters, except in this case, I am watching a show and tasting the meal.

To get back to the point, I was watching Gordon Ramsay abuse the hell out of his new masochist chefs, one of whom is a hulking guy weighing in at more than 400 pounds. When the men’s team won a nail biter of a close scallop-shucking contest, the big guy was called into Ramsay’s office. The team was going to be whisked away on a helicopter for a victory party and the poor bastard was deemed too fat to ride on the copter with his team. My heart sank. My sick little entertainment/food fantasy suddenly hit a little too close to home. It’s not often that you see fat men on TV – especially in this way.

Watching this unfold was heartbreaking and sad. I truly felt for this guy and got his pain immediately.

The rest of the team took off on the helicopter while the big guy was humiliated in front of a national audience and forced to ride a ferry to their destination.

Show me a fat person who wants to be fat and I will call bullshit. The success of Richard Simmons and his Sweating to the Oldies diet empire should be ample evidence that people will do practically ANYTHING to lose weight.

I have struggled with weight issues my whole life. I don’t remember the first time I became acquainted with the diagnosis morbid obesity, but it was a long time ago on a diet far, far away. It was definitely long after I befriended the Husky sizes offered by the Sears & Roebuck catalogue.

You would think when a doctor looks you in the eye and says the words MORBID OBESITY, it would slap some sense into you and push you into getting your act together.

Over the years a lot of people have looked me in the eye and told me “Steve, enough already.” The people closest to me have desperately tried, including my brother, my uncle, and some of my best friends.

Some people are capable of tackling their diet demons early. Sadly I am not one of them.

Many like me amble on, compounding pounds to a point where you just have to shake your head wondering how you allowed it all to get so hopelessly out of control.

I take full responsibility for who I am and how I got here. I make no excuses and I point no fingers. And believe me, after a week, I am not sitting here on some high horse thinking I have this thing beat.

But when I watched that poor guy on Hell’s Kitchen sulking on the ferry and excluded from celebrating with his team on the night before my own first weigh in, I really started thinking about the sadness of obesity.

You go thru life knowing you need to change and your heart and mind desperately want to be thin but then you see a plate of grandma’s macaroni and cheese or one of a million different triggers and your best of intentions are delayed yet another day, another week, another year.

Inside every fat person is someone beautiful whether they achieve their goals or not. This vicious disconnect between what we so genuinely want and often fail to achieve inevitably takes a toll on our lives in so many ways, but right now I am thinking about the way we interact with our friends, our family, our colleagues and our loved ones.

So when I reached out to my friends here on this page to ask for a little help or a gentle nudge as I took on this new challenge, I was floored.

The response was honestly overwhelming and unexpected. I had no idea so many people actually paid attention to a note posted on a facebook page. The outpouring of genuine encouragement, amazing tips, recipes and suggestions was as beautiful as it was scary. I posted my note to make my ambitions public and I got so much more. So to anyone considering taking similar action, careful what you wish for!!! Now, I guess like Thelma & Louise, if you are reading this, it feels like we are now jumping off this cliff together.

So let’s get to the good stuff:

I lost 14 pounds in the first six days of this diet and I am thrilled beyond belief. In my long, storied history as a serial dieter, I have never taken off so much weight in one week by just eating healthy.

In one week, my clothes are feeling baggy, I can’t wear one of my rings, I have dropped two notches on my belt and best of all, my doctor has taken me off one of my diabetes medications because my blood sugars are wildly steady. I am in awe of these real results.

When I was 18, I went on a liquid diet. All I could put in my mouth were these awful tasting shakes. If I recall correctly, my first week, after not eating a thing, I lost 17 or 18 pounds. So to see those numbers on the scale this morning was unbelievable to me. I felt like a contestant on the Biggest Loser.

When I walked into the office, I was hoping/expecting/praying to lose about 7 pounds, but never anything like this. I know that most of it is water weight and when you are a big as I am, you are capable of losing like crazy in week one.

I was pretty fanatical about sticking to the diet and the first 72 hours were the toughest.

Monday morning, my first day at work, I remember walking into the kitchen and there were cookies and chips and all sorts of leftovers from everyone’s Super Bowl parties the day before. But there were also so many co-workers who couldn’t have been more amazing. One in particular has had extraordinary results on a similar program. To see her beautiful, thin and beaming at her goal weight having lost more than 100 pounds more than a year ago was so inspiring, when she left my office it literally made me teary eyed.

When I jumped off the scale in my doctor’s office, even before I called my wife, I dashed off an email to her with the news. I am getting crazy levels of support both at home and at work - from secretaries all the way up to my boss.

But all the support in the world can’t stop you from being you. Fat folk are sick puppies at our core. One night this week on the way home, I stopped for gas on Sepulveda across from Tito’s Tacos and the smell of tortillas and tacos filled the air. For half a second, I actually thought about cheating. When you diet, your senses go into hyper drive – especially your sense of smell. Everything smells like it tastes better than it really is – even the most random shit. I can’t believe I was gonna tank my progress over a taco from Titos. I thought about it but I just couldn’t do it. I got in my car and headed home. As a friend from my wine group reminded me days later, nothing tastes better than losing 14 pounds and he is right.

I think most of you know I am an avowed wine freak.

I am a member of The X-Pensive Winos, a group that has met at least once a month for several years. Sometimes we meet more. The dinners are gluttony on steroids. We plan six or seven or eight course affairs that last hours and each month we taste thru sometimes 20, 30 or more bottles of the best wines in the world all while munching on the most extraordinary meals you can possibly imagine. Telling my friends in that group that I was going to be taking a hiatus for 6 months was very hard. These guys have become truly wine brothers to me… But I had to cut the ties since there is no way I can wrap my head around that kind of eating and drinking even once a month.

So it was a week where I was juggling a radical new way of eating, the daily stress of the office, severing an important part of my social life with friends who mean the world to me while every day battling real and imagined cravings, temptations and chaos.

But I got thru the first week with the help of three angels – my wife and children who are doing everything humanly possible to support me. I also used the blessed memory of my mother, whose mouth watering cooking lessons taught me to be inventive and creative with my choices. I looked at the fairly rigid list of what was available and instead of seeing the list for its separate parts, I decided I could combine the elements and make the whole list work for me to make some truly tasty lunches and dinners.

For instance, along with my proteins, I can have things like onions, celery, cauliflower, fat free chicken broth and asparagus. So I added them all together and made a fantastic non-dairy pureed asparagus soup. Another night, we all settled in for a great ginger chicken and veggie stir fry, and we even found room to have turkey tacos in lettuce cups (see photo above -- they were really delicious).

This morning, I used an few ounces of lobster in a really delicious egg white, spinach, and onion egg mash up. So I am eating well, just with diligent attention to portions. (Anyone want recipes, let me know)

Dieting is hard. Food choices can be bland and boring. I am finding that being creative – thinking ahead - and not just having baked chicken and steamed veggies is key.

But something else was different for me as I took on this new journey. It wasn’t just will power . This week I found a new and different kind of power that was equally strong, inspirational and motivating beyond my own will and desire: it was the loving encouragement and support of a legion of friends who I know are rooting for me as much as I am rooting for myself. It’s a pretty interesting variable in this whole process.

One week is not a life change make. The real hurdles are going to be in the weeks and months and years ahead. I keep saying to my kids, this is not a diet it’s a life change.

I don’t know what the future will bring. I only know what I want and what I dream about.

We are off to a strong start so thanks for reading and more than anything, thanks for your continued expressions of love and support.